More people are being encouraged to do just that, as the City of London announced plans to build 1,500 new homes in former office blocks left vacant due to the pandemic this week.
But the trend of converting commercial buildings into homes has been around for a few years.
Since 2015, property developers have been allowed to convert offices into apartments without getting full planning permission, under a system called permitted development rights – and that policy now applies to shops and warehouses, too.
So what do buyers of converted properties need to look out for?
Size matters when there are no space standards
If you’re looking at a converted flat that is on the smaller side, knowing the exact proportions is vital.
Firstly, this will enable you to work out the price per square metre. This is one way of comparing how good a deal you are getting when viewing homes of different sizes.
If the price per square metre of a conversion is much higher than a regular flat in the same area, for example, you may want to think again about buying it.
But more importantly, you need to know about minimum space standards. The Government says new homes should be at least 37 square metres.
Converted properties can cause mortgage headaches
‘A significant problem with properties that are converted from commercial to residential is whether they are deemed as “habitable” by the lender’s surveyors,’
Another potentially tricky issue is that, if a property has just been converted from commercial to residential use, lenders will class it as a new build – despite the outer shell being decades or even centuries old.
This usually means a higher deposit, which could be a problem for first-time buyers in particular.
‘If a property is to be lived in its current state for the first time, it will be classed as a new build by the lender,’ says Dean Esnard, director at broker Magni Finance.
‘Therefore, borrowers will normally have to put down a deposit of 15 per cent or more, which will be an issue for some.’
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